Investigative Journalism and Albanian Media
By By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published January 13, 2016

Not rarely in discussions with foreign diplomats but even with some of my colleagues on the state of the media in Albania the question is raised about the investigative journalism.  The main conclusion is that it does not really exist but even when efforts have been made most of them have had a political affiliation in the sense of the use of the journalist by a given political force or business circle (s) to attack the political/business adversaries.  

On the other hand, even foreign diplomats have accepted that it is not an easy job to be carried out in Albania not because of lack of expertise or courage of the journalists to do that but due to the danger it poses to the eventual authors of such an endeavor.

"Even in my country it has not been easy. There have been cases when the life of the investigative journalists has been endangered or worse: their houses have been blown out or they have even been killed," a senior diplomat stationed in Tirana would say some time ago.

"We are encouraging such an endeavor but there is no 'enthusiasm' among journalists or media entrepreneurs to undertake such an attempt," another diplomat said feeling reluctant about such a thing.  

In a natural way the questions arises: why such a phenomenon happens in the Albanian media despite some minor efforts which should be applauded. And as a matter of fact this is something that we do not come across only in Albania; there are other countries in the world, including the Balkans, where that genre of journalism is missing or better to say avoided by journalists.

According to what I have read and personally feel the investigative journalism is a vivid process to strive but a difficult undertaking for many reasons.

"Investigative journalism is critical and thorough journalism," according to the definition of the Dutch-Flemish association for Investigative Journalism, VVOJ.

 The leader of Swedish TV's investigative magazine Uppdrag Granskning, Nils Hanson, has the following definitions on investigative journalism published in his book Gravande Journalistik from 2009:

Critical approach - focus is on what does not work and in one way or another can be described as anomaly. Important subject - only a question of importance for the common good can motivate the amount of effort and resources, that very well may have to be invested in the research as well as the criticism uttered in the publication. Own initiative - journalists/editors decide, what is important. Own research - the reporter gathers information and documents, sometimes in spite of tough resistance. Own analysis - the information gathered and the documents are evaluated. An expert can assist in the analysis, but publication does not depend on what someone says. Exclusivity - the public learns important information, that else would not have been in the open.

Based on this definition we discern three types of investigative journalism. Incidentally these categories might overlap.

Uncover scandals. Aimed at detecting violations of laws, rules or norms of decency, by organizations or individuals. Review of policies or functioning of government, businesses and other organizations. Draw attention to social, economic, political and cultural trends. Aimed at detecting changes in society, would write in a study.

Speaking of Albanian media being critical which means that journalism is not merely passing on 'news' that already exist but implies news, which would not be available without any journalistic intervention is not an easy job to do. Likewise being thorough which means that one makes an own substantial effort, either in quantitative terms - much time spent in research, many sources consulted, etc. - in qualitative terms - sharp questions formulated, new approaches used, etc., or a combination of both has many obstacles in this Balkan country.

According to the Center for Investigative Journalism at London City University, "UK and US colleagues tend to define IJ in its moral and ethical purpose and obligation, rather than as a slightly more serious version of ordinary news reporting."

In the service of the Public Interest, our purpose is to uncover corruption, injustice, maladministration and lies.  As a duty to readers and viewers as well as self-protection in a hostile legal environment, investigative journalism seeks above all to tell the documented truth in depth and without fear or favour. It is to provide a voice for those without one and to hold the powerful to account. It's to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

A study on investigative journalism by Mark Lee Hunter called Story-Based Inquiry: A manual for investigative journalists defines investigative journalism by delineating it from 'conventional' journalism:

"Investigative journalism involves exposing to the public matters that are concealed - either deliberately by someone in a position of power, or accidentally, behind a chaotic mass of facts and circumstances that obscure understanding. It requires using both secret and open sources and documents." Can we say that conventional news reporting aims to create an objective image of the world as it is. Investigative reporting uses objectively true material - that is, facts that any reasonable observer would agree are true - toward the subjective goal of reforming the world. That is not a license to lie in a good cause. It is a responsibility, to learn the truth so that the world can change."

If we notice what happens in Albania media it is easy to notice that holding the powerful accountable is not an easy job. Efforts have been growing to uncovering corruption and injustice and maladministration but in most of the cases the big fish has succeeded to get out of the 'net'. Even the noise being made on the judicial reform serves to this end.

A German media specialist would say on Albanian media on this topic the Albanian media are just reporting rather than investigating. And this is true.

Acting like a watchdog to the government, and providing transparency in a way or another has always created a hostile environment for journalists in Albania. Making the actions of the governments known to the public has been accompanied with deprivations which sometimes have a high cost not only for the journalist but for the media outlet, too. There are different ways of exerting that pressure among which the heaviest 'burden' is being the focus of unjustly financial pressure not to mention other ways of pressure.

So under such circumstances the interests of most of the media entrepreneurs usually do not coincide with those of the investigative reporting and they shy away completely from it. Rather most of the media owners in Albania use their press means for their own profitable goals using them as a 'whip' to get profits not only from the government but even from companies and other sources.

To create a real impression of the situation of the investigative journalism in Albania I would say that it is meaningful the fact provided by the Reporters without Borders according to whose report "2015 Freedom of Media in the World Index" that Balkan country had been ranked 82nd among 180 countries of the world.  

But anyway the trend towards free media, including investigative reporting cannot be impeded in Albania like in other countries. 

And in this spirit I would close this contribution with an impressive confession of Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, in the Opening speech at the Speak-Up! 3 Conference held in Brussels on November 4, 2015 which I had the great opportunity to attend when he said that he had  heard it said that the EU has "lost its interest" in media freedom in the Western Balkans and in Turkey.  

The Commissioner pointed out loudly the following: "Let me be very clear: Freedom of media is at the core of the EU integration process and is not negotiable!

I firmly believe that one cannot have a properly functioning rule of law in a country in some areas, and then at the same time have many court cases where judges rule against journalists - only because they have been critical about government officials; one cannot claim to have efficient law enforcement and proper protection of every citizen, if journalists still have to live in fear and perpetrators are not prosecuted; one cannot claim to have a transparent competitive market economy and at the same time tolerate non-transparent ownership of media (where sometimes nobody knows who the real owners/final beneficiaries are); one cannot have a transparent, professional and non-politicised administration guided by rules and at the same time huge amounts of public money spent in media without any accountability."

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